7 powerful business lessons from Zimbabwe’s richest man, Strive Masiyiwa

Zimbabwe’s richest man and the founder of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe Limited, Strive Masiyiwa, recently stepped down from the position of Chairman and Director after 29 years of steering the company.

Masiyiwa retained his more than 50% stake in the company he listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in 1998.

The Zimbabwean billionaire retired from his company as the wealthiest black person in all of Southern Africa with a net worth of $3.3 billion.

Over Masiyiwa’s roughly 27 years as CEO, he’s regularly shared advice and lessons learned in interviews and through his annual letters to Econet Global’s shareholders.

Here are some of the best examples of what Masiyiwa, 61, has shared over the years.

1. Know your numbers  According to Masiyiwa, knowing your numbers as an entrepreneur is the number one way to grow a business and keep your dream alive. You don’t need to become an accountant or bookkeeper, but you certainly need to have a basic level of understanding of the key financial metrics.  “Businesses are based on numbers, and the entrepreneur must always function in numbers. Make numbers your best friend,” he said.

2. Become a master of process  According to the Zimbabwean billionaire, the three pillars for a successful business are: Product. People. Process. However, to maintain a good product and sell to the right people, entrepreneurs must build the necessary structures and systems to make businesses grow quickly.  In one of his interviews, Masiyiwa said, “The best way to do this is by mastering the process and respecting institutional framework. Focusing on the idea isn’t enough to grow your business. As an entrepreneur, having the understanding and the ability to build a process around the business is what makes it scale faster.”

3. Find a great co-founder  This is another important rule to having a successful business. According to Strive, finding the right people to complement what you cannot do is essential for a business to succeed. “I understood this early on when I launched Econet. In the early days of the business, I tried to raise about $10 million, but I didn’t know how to do it. Before that time, the highest amount I had ever raised was $300,000. So, what I did was employ someone who could do what I couldn’t do. I had to negotiate giving him 10% of the company, but he got the job done for me.”  I’ve also discovered over the years that good people function at their best when trusted. This is something African entrepreneurs must practice. “Giving the right people the room to function at their best.”

4. Become a master at pitching  Suppose you bump into Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and you have to say something to him about your business that will make him stop and listen to you. What is it that you’ll say in your pitch?  Well, according to Masiyiwa, there are two key principles in a pitch:  First of all, as an entrepreneur, you must do your research, and you must understand your product and the service you offer so well that you can unpack it in 2 mins.  Secondly, you need to understand what the investor wants and who the investor is. The investor is not your donor or your grandmother. They may find what comes from what you do beneficial, but that’s not what’s driving the investor’s approach to things. So as an entrepreneur, you need to make sure you are pitching to the right people, telling them what they need to hear, as well as the risks you present to them that you need to lower if you’re going to be making pitches throughout your entrepreneurial journey.

5. Learn the art of networking  As an entrepreneur, you have to be creative about networking. “If you’re a small entrepreneur, don’t always try to get to the CEO or Chairman of the group. Do some research on the organisation and try to find out the person making the decisions on the issue you’re interested in.”  Also, network much more effectively. Attend industry events and conferences, and register yourself for every business association if possible. Because that’s where you find the Chairman walking along the corridor and you can have a chat with him.

6. Learn to trust other entrepreneurs  Stop looking upwards, but focus on looking sideways. “While building my businesses, I never sought after big players. I was always about reaching out to people around me who I needed to help me build my business. That’s not to say it’s a hard and fast rule. But pay a lot more attention to the passionate young guy or girl sitting next to you. They’re usually more driven than someone outside your circle.”

7. Look at the challenges as opportunities  It is important to learn how to look at challenges as opportunities to succeed as an entrepreneur. For example, there is an entrepreneurial opportunity for somebody in your challenge in the cost of electricity or a particular commodity. So never feel frustrated because of the challenges you’re faced with. Just look at it as a step that you have to climb.

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